Tag Archive | family

Day 366

Reflection14642421_10207613281355764_542674043095860086_n-1

The battle cry this year has been, “Fuck 2016”. But for me, this year hasn’t been all bad. I started the year in the red and ended in the black. After difficulties and conflict at work, a new assignment allows me peace to be more innovative in working with a marginalized population. I found a new church home, after many years of ignoring religion. A new award, for my work, now sits on a shelf in my living room. The scale showed me numbers I haven’t seen in many years, and better health is returning in increments.

 

Refocus

Celebrity deaths have taken over the news and face book feeds. The cult of personality is alive and well. That’s okay, they enliven our lives by entertaining us, many putting into words the turmoil or joy of the day. At the same time that we were mourning people who were only thankful for the money we put in their pockets, there are people being bombed out of their homes, people who placed themselves in harm’s way to keep our nation free who have no place to rest their heads, people who don’t have clean water to drink, and a nasty election cycle that brought out the monsters who have been sleeping under our beds. As I’ve said before, we all have the power to clean up our corner of the world and it’s time we stepped up to the plate.

 

Recommitment14469665_10207475778438277_7003042647743547690_n

Putting words into action is difficult for many, but it’s time to shit or get off the pot. Write yourself a check and find a way to cash it. Improve your life and then go out and improve someone else’s. Find someone to mentor. Find someone to be your mentor. Support with your presence not just a donation. Show your loved ones that they are indeed loved. Turn your online activism into action. March in a protest. Call your legislator. Become a legislator. **insert your own positive note here**

 

Reengagement

Just because some doors have been closed this year doesn’t mean that there isn’t something waiting for you. I’ve had a couple of big doors closed in my face this year. One was slammed without warning, the other was gentle, with me actually handing over the keys. Boo hoo? Hell no! I don’t believe in reinvention for myself. However I do believe in tweaking things that haven’t been working smoothly. When I recently submitted my vacation request for the coming year, I had my family calendar at my side. Much of next year’s vacation time has been taken over by family events, and I say that joyfully. I signed up for a writing class because I’ve been unfocused for much too long and need a kick in the butt. Brunch, lunch, and dinner dates are already in the works. Looking forward to more face time with friends and family. I’ve been gentle with myself, even though I still ask myself, “What would Pop say?”. But it’s time to put myself back out there.

 

As always, loyal readers and friends, may God’s grace be apparent to you, because it’s always there even when you don’t notice. You have been loved. We’ll get through this together.14191951_10207320815844309_1830921798756828375_n

 

 

 

 

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Remembering Tio Samuel

Today marks my father’s first anniversary in heaven.

Today’s guest contributor is his niece, Rosie, daughter of Pop’s baby brother. As we were planning a memorial service, we invited those who could not attend, to share a memory. Rosie’s was so eloquent that I felt the need to share it with you. This will be read at this afternoon’s gathering.

Hello. Its me, Rosie Rivera (not Adele)

Familia and friends!

I was going to skype but that meant I was going to have to fix my hair and do my makeup.IMG_4049

I am sorry I could not be present for this Celebration of Life for Tio Eli Samuel.  When Eileen mentioned that we can email a remembrance I decided ok, I wont be there, but I’ll be there in a way if I send something in.

 ….I will communicate in  Spanglish and go between both my idiomas, English y “Espanish”.

Remembering my Tio Eli Samuel brings both a tear and a smile. A lagrima because he is no longer with us and a sonrisa because I can hear his laughter. When growing up, I respected him. Lots of us, lo respetabamos even with a little fear. He was the only person, besides his mother, that my dad, Raul, respected. If my Tio was around, the cigarillos/cervezas were hidden. If you know my dad you know that was RESPETO.

I was raised by his “mama”. Therefore, I always heard los cuentos of their upbringing. She would always say how she thought while pregnant that he was going to be a girl; she said that when he was born  “he was mas lindo than a girl with his curly blond hair and his beautiful ojos azules.” Every time she mentioned him I could see how orgullosa she was of her son. She added his title when she would speak to anyone about him. “Mi hijo Reverendo Eli Samuel Rivera, ejecutivo de la Iglesia Metodista.” As a mujer cristiana she was proud that one of her kids had become a Reverend. 

After my grandmother passed away, our family stayed in contact and we would always meet up at my dad’s or my grandfather’s apartmento. That is where I really got to interact with my Tio. We would sit around my Abuelito and start to tell stories from the good old days. At the beginning I would watch what I said or if I was going to tell a chiste/joke. I would make sure it was a clean joke. Until that one day, I said Tio I heard this really funny chiste but it a little colorao, he laughed and said…cuenta, cuenta. OMG, I was given “la luz verde” and from that day on, every time we were together we would laugh so much. Note: the jokes were pink not completely red. I did remember I was still joking with my Reverend Tio.

We celebrated his 77th birthday down here in Florida and he sang “Estas son las mañanitas…” with that beautiful Baritone voice of his and with his little famous chuckle. Who was to know that it would be his last cumpleaños on earth.

Puedo “go on and on.., but I’m just going to sum it up. During the services given last year, I learned how many people he had impacted. How many peoples’ lives he had touched and helped. I was like “WOW” I looked up and said “Abuelita, you definitely had a beautiful son”. I know they must be singing all together in heaven. Please stand a second, lets put our hands together and celebrate his life. Celebremos su vida. Let it be heard in heaven…..

If you are a son, be like my Tio, if you are a brother, be like my Tio; if you are a father, be like my Tio.

Bendicion Tio, viviras por siempre in our hearts!

We treasure the past,
with memories that will always last.

Love you all! God bless!

Orlando 2008 079

Guest Contributor, Rosie Rivera Marmolejos

What was lost, is found

Easter time and my Pop are indelibly connected. Not only was his birthday during this time of year, but as a minister it was the busy season for him, and for his family. As he wrote out his sermons in long hand, pencil first, pen for the final product, Mom typed out the church bulletins while my sister and I folded the freshly mimeographed bulletins, carefully and precisely.pop

Countless pancake suppers on Fat Tuesday, countless sunrise services on Easter Sunday followed by breakfast and another service. Good Friday meant three hour services starting at noon, ending at three pm. Seven ministers bringing us the the seven last words. Cranky, fidgety kids in the pews, earning Mom’s evil eye from the choir stall. Waking up super early on Easter Sunday, clomping around the apartment wearing pajamas and our new shoes, because, hey, new shoes.

And yet we survived those days and went on to subject our children to the same.

When Pop left the local church to work with the national church administration I was almost an adult. Within three years I established a home of my own with a husband and a child. And there began the search for a church home, a place were I would be nurtured, comforted, and feel safe in the knowledge that my faith would be valued.

Running into ministers with human frailties should be expected, but in my mind I thought, “If you can’t live the gospel, you shouldn’t preach the gospel”. And I moved on. Eventually, I stopped going to church all together. Something that I knew hurt my parents but I was actually more comfortable not going to church. My faith was still there but I’d lost my religion.

And then last week I made a wrong turn that turned out to be very right. I passed an old church building with a bell tower. The sign out front said it was Park United Methodist Church, only two miles from home. I looked them up on Facebook, of all places, and found pictures of a congregation living their faith. A soup kitchen, a child care center and after school program, a community food bank are listed as some of the many programs and services at the church.

I showed up at the Maundy Thursday service in jeans because I’d been running errands after work, and walked into a room of people all wearing jeans. The service was an interactive experience. The crown of thorns we held pricked our palms. We cringed as we held an old nail in our hands and struck it into a cross, with a hammer. We rolled dice, as the soldiers did, wagering to win the condemned man’s clothing. We lit a candles at the altar helping to banish the gloom. The taste of bitter vinegar reminded us that when Jesus was thirsty he was given vinegar. I took communion for the first time in many years and went home feeling peaceful.

Good Friday’s Tenebrae service found the altar covered in black cloth, the sanctuary dimly lit with dozens of candles. With scripture readings and musical selections from Jesus Christ Superstar, the light gradually disappeared leaving us in reverent darkness. We went home in silence.

Sunday’s Resurrection Celebration pulled out all the stops. A bell choir, children’s choir, youth choir, and Chancel choir brought musical selections. Seated in packed pews, we enjoyed music from the organ, piano, and several orchestral instruments. Dancers brought the word to life in movement. We laughed, we sang, we felt joyful.

If you’ve read any of my previous work, you know this isn’t one of my usual pieces. Just wanted to share my weekend with you.

I didn’t go to church because it was Easter. I didn’t go to church to protect my father’s legacy. I went back to church for me. We all yearn to be an integral part of a community and I really feel like I found a new church home. A wrong turn that turned out to be very right. Was Pop my co-pilot that day? Maybe. I’d like to think so, it’s something he would do.

 

 

Well done good and faithful servant

popSeeing as how my father was a United Methodist minister, it’s obvious that I’m not Jewish, but I read Sheryl Sandberg‘s essay while my father was in hospice care and her words resonated for me. Having said that, we didn’t sit shiva, but I did observe sheloshim, the first thirty days of mourning. I backed off any activities that were optional. I backed off social media. I attempted to be gentle with myself and not force things. Today marks the thirtieth day.

“Live your life so there’s standing room only at your funeral.” I don’t remember where I saw this but it was true for my father. It was a standing room only crowd. Family who loved him. Colleagues who respected him. Friends of the family showing their respect.

In the brief time between his hospitalization and his passing, family members came to share time with him. They were saying their goodbyes, they may or may not have known it, but we did. With his wife always at his side, he laughed, he sang, and he showed his mischievous side. He applauded prayers. Always encouraging family members in the ministry. That was the way he was. Always.

11406495_10204626303563186_7717616632215498319_nIn the brief time between his hospitalization and his passing, I shared many pictures. Pictures that showed him as a young man in love, a young father, a grandfather, a man who loved where life had taken him. This was a man who could have climbed high in the church’s hierarchy, but turned down opportunities for advancement by saying, “I am where I need to be”.

He loved what he did. As the head of church development he travelled to areas in the United States where Latinos were moving into and he helped establish ministries that would meet their needs. He taught fledgling ministers how to minister to congregations from various Latin American nations. He taught them that you didn’t minister to a Puerto Rican congregation the same way you would minister to a Mexican congregation. At a memorial service, we heard a minister say that she wished they had adhered to the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, a plan he wrote. She said that the way was written for them, all they had to do was to follow it; and they didn’t. Hindsight is always 20/20.

11042684_10204626200960621_6664353787634400362_nIn the brief time between his hospitalization and his passing, we heard from people who remembered him from his ministry in Haverstraw. Kids who enjoyed Sunday School and Vacation Bible School while he was the minister there. We heard from people who enjoyed their time as campers at Aldersgate, a United Methodist camp in Swartswood, NJ. We heard from people who entered the ministry because of the example he gave them, as a man of God. And we took all those memories and treasured them in our hearts.

I of course, remember him as my father. The father who checked the weather here while he was living in Florida. He was always worried about us when it snowed. The father who showed up when we called out in the middle of the night. The father who understood when I decided to leave my husband. The father who backed my sister in her contentious divorce. The man who gave his grandchildren the man that they all needed. The man who played with his great-grandchildren.

I would put my head on a plate for him. I would jump in front of a train for him. Or so says Bruno Mars. I definitely would. But my father wouldn’t have tossed it in the trash like the woman he referred to in ‘Grenade’.

 

It’s been an emotional day, so I leave you with the words I wrote for his funeral service:

Well done good and faithful servant. Now rest in my arms. 

So said the Lord to our father.

Here lies the earthly remains of one of God’s most faithful servants. What remains is the vessel that held our father’s soul. His was an old soul. We constantly teased him about his never owning a pair of jeans. After retirement, he bought a pair of jean shorts and made sure to send us a picture of him wearing them.

His name was the one we called out in the middle of the nights when the Cuco paid a visit. Daddy, Daddy!! 

He was the one who fished me out of the cold waters of Pelham Bay when I slipped into a hole no one knew was there. We both shivered on the subway ride home.

He became Pop, instead of Daddy, when we were teenagers. And just so you all know, I’m only responsible for 50% of his white hair. We sucked our teeth and rolled our eyes, as teenagers are prone to do. One look out of those cat eyes of his was enough to quell our rebellion. As adults, and parents ourselves, we understood that he was only trying to keep us from harm, but at the time…

Despite a grueling travel calendar, he was there for every graduation, every wedding, every holiday. Family was everything to him. He became a grandfather at a young age and he took to it like white on rice, or beans on rice if you want to be culturally correct. Many was the time that we caught him fomenting rebellion in his grandchildren. He was both grandfather and godfather to my older daughter, and he acquitted himself in both roles.

He is much beloved and much respected by family and friends alike. Our parents traveled to Philadelphia on May 22nd, for what was to be a four day visit for a family gathering. But God flipped the script on us. 

On May 25th he was admitted to Aria Hospital Torresdale Campus in Philadelphia, and our final journey began. By May 27th we knew that the end was in sight and despite our grief, we thanked God for his grace and mercy for having him within reach. Our family members were able to spend some time with him, pray with him, and say their farewells. Many times he applauded the prayers.

On June 2nd he was transported to my sister’s home and began to receive hospice care. He was surrounded by comfort and love. By June 9th, we knew the end was near and hoped that he would not be called home on June 10th, his granddaughter’s birthday.

On June 11th, his loving wife and lifetime partner told him how much she loved him and to grab God’s hand when it came. A few minutes later he took his final breath in her arms. The same arms that surrounded him with love during 57 years of marriage.

God has shown his mercy and grace towards our family again and again over the years. We praise His name.

We give thanks for all of the communications we have received in the last three weeks. We’ve heard from people who have been mentored by our father. People who entered the ministry because of him. People who have been inspired by his work. We are aware that there are thousands of people who worship in UMC because of his work, and they will never know it. We’ve been told of the donations to MARCHA in our father’s name, and we truly appreciate the fact that our father’s ministry will continue.

We, his wife, his daughters, his grandchildren, his brother, his nieces and nephews, great grandchildren, cousins, uncles, and family members will miss him forever. There will be a void in our lives that no one will fill.

We thank God for the time we spent with him. And again, we thank God for His mercy and grace. My sister and I hit the lottery when it comes to fathers. We sorta knew it then. We definitely know it now.

11091466_10204646422026135_1706504453617460368_nVictoria said it best when she wrote, “it is now your turn to rest your voice and let your family tell your favorite stories.”

Leaving the cocoon behind

Do I miss being married? Yes. I miss the companionship, I miss the second income, I miss the regular sex, I miss the shared history. Do I miss my husband? Nope. Just, nope.

I come from a line of long-married people. My parents recently celebrated their 56th anniversary. My grandparents and great-grandparents were married until death did them part. When I got married in May of 1979, it was for better or worse, rich or poor, fat or skinny, blah, blah, blah. Sigh. I was also seven months pregnant, I lived with my parents, and I had college finals coming up. I was twenty years old. What the hell did I know?!

My father, in his infinite mercy, told me that I didn’t have to get married. He gave me an out and I didn’t take it. I had brought enough shame on the Rivera name. Rev. and Mrs. Rivera had already lived through my previous breakup, a week before the wedding, and I thought it was time to let them off the hook. I knew the church gossip circle could be vicious and I had been a favorite topic for too long now.

So, off I went into the world of marital bliss. Bliss. Believing the Lies Instead of Spying on the Sucker. Yea, we won’t use that word the same way, ever again.

We leave Eileen to have her child, graduate from college, get a job, start graduate school, have a second child, drop out of graduate school, raise her children, educate her children; we allow twenty four years and six months to pass by. Years full of joy, struggle, achievement, and sorrow. And now the story gets interesting, because on her birthday, in 2003, she moved out. She moved on. She was paroled. And she cried.

My husband and I started couples counseling in the summer of 2002. We had a few great sessions, I especially felt very comfortable with the therapist. I was just beginning to open up about my feelings and the grudge I held against him for past actions. At our last joint session, he sat there and pulled out a
figurative double-barreled shotgun and blasted my faults, my weaknesses, my lack of affection; he labeled me a good mother, but a poor wife. He said that he wouldn’t be returning to our sessions because HE wasn’t the one who no longer wanted to be married. I was the one with the problem. As love lay bleeding in my hands, my self-esteem having taken a direct hit, our time was up and we drove home in absolute silence. I cried as I showered, knowing that this marriage had gone as far as it could. It was time to give up the ghost. He wrapped himself around me when I got into bed, apologizing for his nastiness. I told him it was just another episode in a long line of episodes and tried hard to keep myself from using the word ‘always’. Our therapist warned us against using that word and I just wasn’t up for anything further from him. And then we had sex, because that was how he expressed himself.

The next day I received a call from our therapist, while I was at work. She told me that she was concerned about me and wanted to make sure that he hadn’t become violent the previous night. She also told me that it was apparent that he wouldn’t get anything out of our sessions and she would be referring him to another therapist.

He never returned to therapy. I, on the other hand, continued my weekly sessions. Week after week of sneers, ridicule, when I got home; anxiety attacks, and crying while sitting under the shower so no one would hear me cry. And then week after week of silence, indifference, and finding somewhere else to go while I was at my sessions, because being home alone wasn’t working for him. All the while, I knew where this was going but I knew I couldn’t get there alone. I needed my therapy sessions the same way menopausal women needed to take calcium. I was strengthening from the inside out. Learning to use words like, “When you do that, I feel __” or “When you say that, I feel __” and I never said, “You always __”.

Only two people were surprised by my Declaration of independence. My husband and my younger daughter.

My older daughter pointed her fork at me, and said, “You should’ve left ten years ago”. I asked her if she wanted to come along. She sat up, from where she was laying on the floor and told me that she had her own escape plans in mind. She informed me that she would be taking her sister with her, so there was no need to find a large apartment since they would be moving out on their own within the next year. Pride in her strength fought with grief in the knowledge that I would no longer be living with my greatest treasures, my children. Mr. Man had already informed me that if I wanted out of this marriage I would be the one leaving. And once I left, there would be no returning. As if.

My older daughter was already out in the workforce, and living at home had allowed her to have a comfortable financial cushion. My sorrow was for my younger daughter, who was still a year away from college graduation. She would never have the opportunity to amass a comfortable cushion. She was a Daddy’s girl, the apple of his eye, and yet she and I had a great relationship. She came to me with everything, good and bad. There was no judgement, no advice. I served as the voice of reason. The person who laid things out in a manner where she could make a decision for herself. My wild child, my last baby, had already shown that she had steel in her spine. She would be fine.

As I continued shopping for appliances, electronics, and various home goods, my comadre kept nagging me, “When are you going to tell your parents?” More than anything, I feared their reaction. They knew I was in therapy, and living downstairs from us, they probably knew that all was not well in the upstairs apartment. My new residence was almost ready for me and I needed to get all my clothing there, so I needed to have the discussion now because there was no way they wouldn’t notice me going up and down the stairs with armloads of clothing. So, arming myself with a cup of coffee, I went downstairs, treating each step as if it was a chasm I would fall into if I wasn’t careful. It was probably the slowest I had ever taken those stairs in my fifteen years living in that house.

Both of my parents were in the living room when I entered their apartment. My father watching his Saturday morning news programs while my mother was cleaning out her purse. After having put the discussion off for so long, I just dove off the diving board, head first, no fancy swan dive for me. “I’m leaving him and next Saturday is my last night here.”

Mom took off almost running. My eyes flicked from her back to my father’s face, while internally I said, “Ohshitohshitohshit”. He looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m glad you finally made a decision. It’s been a long time coming”. I told him where I would be living and that I would be taking my personal belongings out little by little. My mother walked back into the room with a few shopping bags and some boxes. She said, “I bought all these things for your grandfather, but I think you could use them more”. A lamp, flat wear, a small coffee pot, and a few other household goods emerged from the bags. Relief poured out of me in a huge, gusty laugh as I walked over to hug them both. Those who loved me, and wanted only the best for me knew it was coming and patiently waited for me to say the words.

Sunday, November 16, 2003 finally rolled around. There is little that I remember about that day, but I remember that night as if it happened yesterday.

While my husband stayed home drinking and watching football, the rest of us went to my favorite restaurant to celebrate my 45th birthday. My gifts were already in my new home. A bed-in-a-bag set from my daughters already dressed up my new bed. The hammers and screwdrivers, from my sister, helped me hang new curtains. A new rice cooker from my comadre, sat in the new kitchen waiting to feed me. We talked and laughed throughout dinner as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on. We decided that I would be hosting Thanksgiving dinner in my new, roomy dining room. Having never done so, I was very excited about hosting family gatherings.

With dinner done, we piled into the car and drove back home. My daughters retreated to their bedrooms to prepare for bed. I went from room to room gathering up my toiletries and the clothing I still had there. And finally it was time to say goodbye.

Mr. Man took me by the hand and led me to sit beside him on the bed. Our bed. A bed that would never again look as neatly as I preferred. He told me how much he loved me and how I was the love of his life. How he wished this had never happened. And then he became himself again. “What kind of mother leaves her children behind?” I allowed him to speak, never letting on that the question had been on my mind for a month and that this had already been a topic of conversation with my daughters. On and on he droned about how his daughters would get married and have children and how I would continue to be an integral part of their lives while shutting him out. Questioning what he would do if he got sick and I cut off his health insurance. The more he spoke the better I felt about my decision. And the less I wanted to leave my children in his home. I looked him in the eye, told him that I wouldn’t be taking him off the insurance, kissed him on the lips and told him to take care of himself.

I walked to the living room, tenderly kissing my daughters while reminding them that I was as much at fault in the breakup as he was. I received nods that they understood what I was attempting to do, as the tears streaming down their cheeks let me know that they couldn’t get any words out of their throats. And then I left the house like my ass was on fire.

The three mile drive south was done carefully, slowly. The road wavered before my car as my eyes welled up with tears, repeatedly. As soon as I could catch my breath it would hitch, and my eyes would fill again. Never questioning my decision, still seeing my daughters’ tear-stained faces before me, the car continued moving to a new street in another city. A home where I would sleep alone for the first time in my life. I had made my bed and now it was time to lay in it.

Fearful that sleep would not make an appearance after an emotionally draining evening, the alarm clock was moved from the nightstand to a bureau on the other side of the bedroom. Emotions warred within me. Sadness that my daughters were no longer within arm’s reach, yet excited that I would be able to show them a new strength that hadn’t always been apparent. Strength that had been hiding under the a cloak of too much compromise. Hiding under a barrage of words that should never have been uttered and tears that should never have been shed.

Brand new pajamas, a brand new bed with brand new linens. There were no memories in this bed and yet my body lay in the same spot it had occupied for so many years. Here silence reigned. Eyes closed, I slept straight through until morning for the first time in months. Months.

My routine never changing, only the location of things changed. Coffee and breakfast were made; the dishes were washed and I left for work in the knowledge that my home would still be clean when I returned home in the afternoon.

Taking pictures of what I had taken to calling ‘my sanctuary’, I proudly showed them to my therapist at our next session. There would be new fears and insecurities to tackle and I would use her as a sounding board for the next two years.

Plot twists are thrown into your life to let you know that what you think is good for you, really isn’t. It takes distance and clarity of spirit to see that, acknowledge it, and revel in it. Once I became bored with my solitary existence and I found myself looking forward to going to work because there I wouldn’t be alone anymore, I realized that I had traded one cocoon for another. It was time to start wriggling out of it and find out what my butterfly wings would look like.

Taking baby steps, I began attending events and performances whenever I could. Making new friends along the way. Finding new art forms I hadn’t been exposed to in the past. Taking the plunge into social media, shortly after my fiftieth birthday, allowed me to find an outlet for the writing bug that would raise its head occasionally. Starting a personal blog was another step in my emotional freedom. And nothing would do but to call it Mariposa Social.

Finally free of emotional cocoons, the butterfly’s wings were finally out. And they were gorgeous.

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My personal Guerrera

Anyone who was blessed to have a grandmother in their lives, knows the special love you only receive from your grandmother. I was super lucky because I had three grandmothers until I was an adult. With two grandmothers and a great-grandmother, keeping me in their daily prayers, I had a strong force field protecting me from life’s daily woes.That was then 056

Every kid eventually realizes that their elders have names other than Abuela, Mamá, Mami or Titi. Maria Santos answered to many names; Doña Maria, Mami, Titi, and her favorite, Mamá. As her first grandchild, it was my honor to present her with her first great-grandchild. Mamá was in Puerto Rico when my daughter was born. The day after she returned, I loaded up my newborn, and all of her equipment, and trekked out to the Bronx. There stood my grandmother, baby cradled in one arm, cooking with the other, all the while barking out orders like the general that she was. Someone in the room asked her to lower her voice because the baby was sleeping; you all know her response to that one, “Que se acostumbre”. And you know what? My daughter slept right through it.

The mother of seven, five of whom grew to adulthood, Doña Maria was the grandmother of ten and the great-grandmother of fourteen, all of whom she met before joining her husband in heaven.

That was then 003Mamá’s strength and resiliency was an example to all who met her. Before the end of her life, she had lost two sons to violence and her husband, after a stroke. When her oldest and youngest died, she was brought to the church, both times, from her hospital bed. Every loss took a piece of her heart, and yet her heart was so big that she lived on and showed us all how to hold our heads up although our hearts were breaking. She was the rock who fortified my sister, after the death of her infant son. I remember my sister describing her heartache and not understanding how Mamá didn’t fall into despair with her personal losses. The answer was faith and the grace of God.

Doña Maria was a little pillow of a woman. With a bosom that put babies to sleep within seconds and a home perfumed with the aromas of her cooking. With a bible in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other she ruled over her family just like the queen that she was.

A benevolent ruler, who was many things to many people, but most beloved by her descendants who strive daily to grow up to be her. Maria Maria Martinez de Santos best known as Mamá.That was then 361

 

The heart of the family

We all acknowledge that the mother is the heart of every family. But what do you do when the heart of your family is getting smacked with everything life can throw at her? Well, you learn to persevere. You get in the cab of the bulldozer and you learn to drive that puppy over everything in your path.

Nereida’s story is not the one you can find in a book of fairy tales. While I don’t know what the early part of her life was like, I was anThat was then 031 eyewitness to her adult life.  A young wife, who was bullied into finishing high school by her sisters-in-law, she learned to bully back and they became sisters, without the in-law part. The conversion of Nereida Diaz into Nereida Santos had begun.

She went on to have three children with Guillo and a successful career at Prospect Hospital, the personal ER for the Santos grandchildren. She cracked the whip over all of our heads. When Titi Nereida said something, you did it. As kids we knew who to go to for nurturing, although it was a close call between Mama and Titi Ana. They became our protectors against whatever storm was brewing. We all knew that Titi Nereida and Titi Luisa (my mother) were the ones to hide from.

Guillo’s sudden death hit us all hard, none harder than Nereida who now had three children to raise by herself. Oops, did I say by herself? My mistake, you see this is the Santos Family and here you don’t have to do anything by yourself. You need help, there will be a Santos to the rescue. Wrinkled cape and all.

I’m not going to say the Santos Family is resilient in the face of tragedy, only because I don’t have to say it. I remember Mama telling Debbie to stop crying in the aftermath of Guillo’s death. This woman who had just lost another child was in the kitchen cooking. Yes, cooking. I remember Tommy headbutting my boyfriend because my lap was his, and only his. Gil, known as Kookie in those days, was concerned about the collateral damage. A true sign of the man he would become.

That was then 128I slept with Debbie in the days leading up to her Daddy’s funeral and let me tell you now, Nereida’s strength of character was etched into that kid from a young age. #Ballbuster

When my parents had to go out of town, I stayed at Titi Nereida’s apartment in the Santos compound. After all, we were the South Bronx’s version of the Kennedys (ok, maybe just Beck Street’s version). Just like Titi Flora, we spent part of the day hanging in the window looking out onto Beck Street to see what everyone was up to. During one of our window sessions, Titi asked me if I had my friend yet. Not getting her meaning, and thinking that she meant to ask if I had a boyfriend, I told her that I did in fact have a boyfriend (although he may not have known it). She laughed and asked me flat out if I had my period yet. Red in the face, I admitted that no, the momentous occasion had not yet happened.

Yes, Titi could be embarrassing even without witnesses.

Again, as an eyewitness, I must admit that there were two pivotal events in Nereida’s life. One was a return to the church. She was always a woman of faith, but not always a church-goer. Upon her return, she jumped in with two feet and never looked back. She wanted me to take my comadre, for whom she had much affection, to a healing service following her MS diagnosis. Her invitation brought tears to my comadre’s eyes.

The other event was becoming a grandmother. I’ve never seen a woman take to being a grandmother faster than Titi. All of a sudden the nurturing side of her was out and in full display, and those of us who lived under her whip, found ourselves just the slightest bit jealous.  Billy, as the first, was the recipient of a lot of coddling and spoiling. So much so, that we begged her to stop when he started using those eyebrows against us.

I thank God for Gil, Debbie, and Tommy. I thank God for Billy, Alexandra, Victoria, Saadia, Ariana, Elizabeth, Antonio, and Mark. I thank God for Mitzi, Joanne, Teresa, and David.

I thank God that when her illness hit hard, she was good with Him. I thank God that she was able to see and interact with all her grandchildren. I thank God that she was not cognizant of Debbie’s illness and death, because it may have broken her. I thank God for every minute of her life. The good and the bad. Her illness took her from us way before we were ready to lose her.

She is now in the arms of our heavenly Father and restored such that we will recognize her when we enter our heavenly reward, as God has promised.IMG_5886

Rest in Glory, Titi.